Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Poutine and the big table. The image went around the world. But less for its sensitive context – the de-escalation in Ukraine – than for the comments and diversions it has aroused.
This is THE photo. The one that everyone has seen, that many have commented on, that some have hijacked. This Monday, February 7, 2022, Emmanuel Macron is going to Moscow to attempt a “de-escalation” in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Around 4:30 p.m., he meets Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Only one cliché comes out of this interview. We see the two men at the ends of a four-meter long white table. The image marks and very quickly becomes viral, subject to a number of analyses, questions and diversions.
Surprising and empty
Thibault Camus has been a photographer for twelve years at AP (Associated Press). He followed the trip of the French president to Russia. As he prepares with his colleagues to cover the meeting, the Elysée press service informs them that “for health reasons, the Kremlin does not want anyone other than the Russian technicians in the room” where the leaders. Frustrated, they wait in the press room when the picture of the two heads of state on either side of the table comes out. “We were all disappointed not to have entered, we all wanted to make this image. We wanted to follow the president, tell this trip and participate in history.”
The image quickly goes around the world. However, “she is strange”, believes Thibault Camus.
[Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Poutine] are very far from each other and between them there is a void. If we talk about photos, it’s quite strange. Already to take them together, you have to take up a lot of space at the top and bottom. In this image, we can hardly distinguish the protagonists. It is difficult to capture their expressions because we can hardly discern their faces. Are they looking at each other? We just see the position of the bodies. They are too small in the frame.
What is difficult in the shots where the characters are far from each other, continues the photographer, “is that there are so many things around them – with this very singular decorum, white, bare – that they become small”. To take such a photo, there are not many options: “We go to the wide angle and we open.”
Before this trip, Thibault Camus had prepared. “I imagined photos where they would be seated side by side, with a small table between them, like at the White House. With a handshake, possibly. I was going to take this photo, but not that. That’s the surprising thing.”
A viral image but a classic modus operandi
Not far from Thibault, Sylvain Tronchet, correspondent for Radio France in Moscow, is preparing his live appearances. Like his colleagues, he watches on the television in the press room the retransmission of the start of the meeting with a slight delay. “I took a photo from the television and I tweeted it, he says. It quickly went viral.” His message will be seen more than 1 million times according to Twitter.